Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Taxi Attack

One of the joys of cycling in Cycling City is the occasional attack by one of Bristol's taxi drivers. I don't know what it is that makes them so belligerent, perhaps it's being stuck behind a wheel all day, moving yet sedentary - very unnatural. I guess they think they can vent their frustration with impunity on lowly cyclists, which actually they normally can because, as I know from bitter experience, there's no way the police will ever take any action, even if there are independent witnesses.

Tonight's escapade involved taxi no. 258, reg. DG52EYA, driven by an overweight Asian gentleman (that last term used facetiously). I was cycling back, somewhat ironically, from a 20's plenty for Bristol (promoting lower speeds) meeting in town and was just turning off Queen's Road, Clifton into Lansdown Place (right background above) at about 10 pm, when I noticed a people carrier type taxi trying to overtake me on the inside of the bend, on the right hand side, even as I was turning at the narrow junction. I held my position and this prevented him from completing his manoeuvre.

That's when the deliberate harassment started. He repeatedly honked his horn at me and then drove along beside me, still on the right hand side of the road, telling me I should keep to my side of the road! I decided to try to get his number so edged closer to him until I eventually brought him to a stop, after much honking of his horn, so getting myself in front of him and writing down the taxi and registration numbers on the back of my hand. At this point he got out and tried to grab my bicycle and a little tussle ensued, with some rather unimaginative epithets thrown in by him - words I don't accept on this blog but if I said "you f...... c..." I think you can work it out.

I then let him go on his way, having secured the identifying information. But then remembered that I had my camera with me, so set off after him again, catching up with him at the end of Mortimer Road where it joins Clifton Down Road, where he was waiting to join the end of the taxi rank queue. I stopped behind him and took the picture above. My hands were shaking so I'm afraid it's a bit blurred. At this point he got out and starting shouting obscenities at me again, asking why I was taking a picture of his taxi and trying to push me over.

Being a cyclist of many years standing (or should that be sitting?) I'm quite used to handling this sort of aggression, especially from taxi drivers. The thing is not to escalate the physical side (unless you fancy your chances). A bit of pushing and shoving is no big deal once you've calmed down. So I eventually extricated myself and set off home, determined to tell the world about the kind of people who Bristol City Council consider to be fit and proper persons to hold taxi licenses.


eddie said...

Serves you right for cycling "somewhat ironically". Sounds like you two were in different weight classes too - what if he had been joined by two or three of his idling mates from the taxi rank? I suggest you retreat to a safe distance before pulling out your subversive little box brownie next time. If I had been pedalling past I might have been foolish enough to come to your aid, then you'd have my b....y nose on your conscience. Stay out of danger.

Chris Hutt said...

"Stay out of danger."

You mean give up cycling? That's what most people do, once they've had a few nasty experiences. I almost did for a while, until Mark Bradshaw reawakened my passion with his BRT on Path plans.

I should be grateful really because it made me realise that it's better to fight for something you believe in, even if it kills you in the end, than to live life cowed by intimidating bullies.

SteveL said...

Glad you are ok. I presume with a photo you have enough to file an issue with the bit of the council that deals with taxis -it's pretty hard for the taxi to deny it was there when you have the pictures.

Chris Hutt said...

I wish I'd had the presence of mind to put the camera into video more. If it has a microphone that would have picked up his verbal abuse too.

I'll have to practice for next time. Perhaps special courses could be run by Life Cycle as part of Cycling City - "Coping with taxi attacks" or something.

I'll send a link to the taxi licensing dept and see what they want to do about it, but without any independent witnesses it's just my word against his.

The photo merely shows that the vehicle was in that place at that time, not what happened. No CCTV in leafy Clifton that I know of.

Chris Hutt said...

There's an on-line taxi complaints form. It seems that anti-social behaviour by taxi drivers may be quite common.

Anonymous said...

I've reported 2 harassments by bus drivers, 1 via the council re a Park & Ride bus and 1 direct to First Bus for one of theirs and had satisfactory replies on both issues. They seemed to take them seriously. I'm sure only a minority of incidents are reported. The more that are (especially when they can be substantiated) the more chance there is that the situation will improve and the roads will become safer. Hopefully evidence can be gathered without intimidation. (When? Where? RegNo.? Description of driver. What happened? Bus No.) Make a note as soon as possible - at the time if it's safe enough or discreetly afterwards. Glad you're OK Chris.

Anonymous said...

apparently there is a substantial enforcement team in licensing who claim they do report successful prosecutions in the local papers. Email with full details.

Even if its 'your word against his' it should become obvious if there's a mounting list of complainants over time, and at the very least he'll have some explaining to do which may calm him, and others, down.

Chris Hutt said...

I've submitted the complaint via the on-line complaint form. I'll report back of course (unless the taxi driver decides to sort me out beforehand).

I used the same complaint form last year in connection with the taxi pictured on the side bar parked on the pavement and zig-zags just in front of a pedestrian crossing. Someone called Albert responded and seemed genuinely concerned. Eventually (weeks later) they hauled the guy in and gave him a bit of a talking to. They seemed quite pleased to have had some solid evidence to act on.

DocSavage said...

I think it's important that more cyclists take action (within the law) by recording in any way possible and following it up with complaints.
I used to get riled and end up with my blood pumping and often putting myself into danger, but now I use my phone and camera and try and calmly record whats going on. I was recently physically threatened by a speeding car on a narrow street and by pulling my phone out and starting to call the police he realised he wasn't anonymous as I had his registration.

Anonymous said...

Shame you didn't have an iron bar or hammer handy....

Chris Hutt said...

I had my D lock, but really I think that such things should only be used as a last resort if you're seriously threatened and have no escape.

Once you respond with violence yourself then it is no longer so clear who is the bully and who the victim. Keep the moral high ground by trying to keep your cool and do as DocSavage says - get evidence that can be used later.

Jane Hopkins said...

I think I also have been harassed by this same taxi driver. Unfortunately, he drove off too quickly for me to record his registration. But he beeped me aggressively whilst driving close on my tail and then swerved around me very quickly to overtake, whilst sneering at me through the window. I felt very threatened. It was in Sevier Street between Mina Road mini roundabout and the railway bridge at about 8.00am. As it was my first cycle to work this year - I was being very cautious. Not a happy start. Jane.

Chris Hutt said...

Well I've just had a reply to my complaint from the Council's Licensing Enforcement Officer saying -

"In reference to the taxi incident dated 4th March 2009 at 22:00hrs on Lansdown Place, I have interviewed the driver in question here at our licensing offices.

The driver now fully understands your feelings on this matter, his events on that evening differ to yours, and we feel we cannot take this matter any further.

Mr Hutt, this complaint will stay on his file should he come to our attention again."

Pretty much as I expected when there is no corroborating evidence. Time to get equipped with a head mounted video camera.

Jon Rogers said...


Good to hear it has been speedily investigated and actioned by the Licensing team, and that the incident will stay "on file".

I would really like to hear ideas on how we can encourage and nurture a more friendly feeling on the streets.

For example, there was a suggestion a week or so back about using a "thumbs up" or "thumbs down" sign to thank or gently admonish other road users. Seems to work quite well in my limited experience.


Chris Hutt said...

Hi Jon,

I think you're right to focus on the issue of sharing the streets. We all need to accept that our own desire to get from A to B has to be reconciled with everyone else's desire to do much the same, or indeed to just use the street in a social context, meeting, talking, playing, etc.

Above all that means reducing speeds and changing priorities, or at least the public perception of priorities (since the law gives pedestrians much more priority than motorists do, such as when crossing side roads).

In my view the root of the problem is the attitude of many motorists who believe that roads are primarily for them and that others, pedestrians and cyclists, must defer to them and accept the danger they create.

That in turn is rooted in the myth that motorists pay for the roads through Road Tax (which was abolished in 1936!). The motoring lobby has been very effective to keeping that particular myth alive for over 70 years! Time it was buried. It would be great if the ghost of Road Tax - VED - was scrapped and replaced by a fuel or mileage tax.

Changing attitudes could be a major element of Cycling City, but must be handled in a very sophisticated way, making use of the best PR and marketing skills available, married to a mature understanding of the underlying issues. Amateurish efforts such as we have seen to date really aren't good enough.

I'd be happy to assist with that, but we must be wary of decisions by committee (or stakeholders' boards) which tend to produce simplistic 'solutions' - everyone has their pet idea for a good slogan for the back of a bus but we must recognise that a more subtle approach is required.